Art Culture

The Kafka Suite @ the Chelsea Hotel 2021

| August 26, 2021 | 0 Comments
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The Chelsea Hotel: Ok, its around 2 AM, New York time. Our ride from JFK to Manhattan was visually informative enough, but lately, considering the layovers, it seems that just flying across the U.S. takes an entire day. I’m sure this is directly attributed to my finding cheaper flight packages online. In any event, after spending the day and evening traveling from SFO to JFK, my wife and I rolled out of that shuttle van feeling like a couple pieces of stale Cajun beef jerky looking for a place to lay down.

However, as a couple of quasi-worldly people, I can say without reservation that the minute we stepped from the sidewalk at 222 W. 23rd. St. and entered the Chelsea Hotel, we were instantly awakened by the decor of the lobby, which immediately underscored our purpose for being in Manhattan-to finally experience th’ city’s Fine Art and food at a leisurely pace, and our first art experience was a real eye-opener, for how many other hotels display a major work (Dutch Masters) by former resident and world renown Pop artist, Larry Rivers in their front lobby? This was exactly the kind of “juice” energy we had anticipated finding throughout Manhattan artdom, and we were impressed!

The Chelse Hotel

As a practicing artist for over 30 years, and recently retired college Art Instructor, I and my wife, and avid reader, were both elated as we stood at the Registration Desk of this truly historical and sometimes home of many world class artists, writers, poets and dancers, some of which, (Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe and Brandon Behan), are recognized with individual large brass plaques at the front entrance of the hotel. Other celebrity/residents such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Syd Vicious and numerous others, are not recognized with plaques, but are certainly remembered for their “brass balls” attitudes and/or notoriety.

The first room we were shown had a slight problem, in that the clerk had some trouble working the lock to get us in, and as he was leaving, I attempted to close the door behind him only to have the entire knob come off in my hand! My mind immediately flashed to Dylan‘s lyrics from “Desolation Row“-”…about th’ time the door knob broke.” and for some perverse reason, I felt “chosen”. However, the clerk apologized and immediately took us to a second room, which he said was larger and more expensive, but we could stay there for one night at our pre-agreed upon price of $239/night.

chelsea hotel kafka room

As soon as we entered the second room, we didn’t care how much the room cost, we just knew we HAD to stay in this room, even if just for the night, and to this day, I still refer to it as the “Kafka Suite”. And for good reason- Most of the walls had been painted an ultra-gloss bile green color, which would normally repulse even me, but atop this weird slime-like background, were large (6″ up to 14″) stencil-painted cockroaches, beetles, flies, spiders, mosquitoes, dragonflies, moths and water bugs-each painted a different fluorescent color . Needless to say, we were definitely awake now, as we stood and stared in awe around the room and kitchenette, all the while thinking about Frantz Kafka‘s famous short story-”Metamorphosis“.

This being our first introduction to local unrecognized art energy, made us realize that in order for us to take full advantage of the situation by experiencing dreams/nightmares about Metamorphosis, we would need to have a late meal of sorts, in order to guarantee restless sleep. In short, something that came served with a side order of onions! So, we tossed our luggage on the bed and scurried back down stairs, out the door, and into the city that never sleeps. We only had to walk a real city block before coming to a small bar-b-que beer joint on 23rd., where we experienced for the first time,…fried onion strings, which are fried Vidalia onion rings, but cut only 1/8″ wide, delicious beyond description, and served by the half-pound…with a fork. Just one more small thing that makes NY such an unforgettable experience.

Around a pound of onion strings and several beers later, we waddled back to the Kafka Suite in eager anticipation of encountering Gregor Samsa during the night, in one form or another, but unfortunately/fortunately it was not to be during our next 10 hours of completely undisturbed sleep. I emphasize undisturbed, because when the Chelsea was originally constructed in 1882 as a co-op apartment for musicians, and to assure privacy to rehearse and play, the walls are 12″ thick!

The following morning, before we walked up all 10 floors to view the art that is hung/installed throughout every available wall surface throughout the building, we stopped at the front desk and asked if we could remain in the “bug room” (Their description.) Upon hearing that it rented for $400/night, we chose another room at the $239 price, and returned to our room to transfer our bags to the smaller room on the 3rd. floor.

Although visually much less interesting, this room certainly proved to be more interactive, which after that morning’s unplanned but very necessary “roomarobics”, prompted us to refer to it as the Circus Room. But first, a short preface:

Like San Francisco’s building earthquake retrofit ordinance, NY adopted a similar ordinance with a 2007 deadline for businesses to comply. Wellll, (as Jack Palance might whisper), most businesses, like the Chelsea, waited to the last possible minute to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for necessary repairs, thus the very noticeable presence of all that scaffolding that you have to walk under/around throughout Manhattan and the other boroughs that make up the city. So, each morning at 8:01, workmen were on the exterior scaffolding platform just outside our room, making repairs on everything from the huge neon sign, to bearing walls, to window and door jambs. This is not a problem if you don’t mind showering and dressing, or trying to have a conversation while hearing workmen testifying about the ups and downs of their career choices over a background of an even louder daytime talk radio program. (Just in passing, there are posted signs throughout Manhattan that warn drivers of a $300 fine for honking their horns. Yet, workmen can play radios at full volume from 8Am until they get off work.

chelsea hotel room

Ok, like all rooms in the Chelsea, this second room had 12′ tall ceilings with a single window that was about 3′ wide and 8′ tall. The material used to make the curtain that covered this window, had to have originally come from Ringling Bros., as it was as close to striped canvas as any painting I’ve ever stretched or seen. It’s colorful striped patter was somewhere between what Roy Lichtenstein might have chosen for pajamas, and a bar code as seen through the eyes of a rabid dog. However, the most interesting feature of this curtain, was the fact that it was designed for a window seven or eight feet wide. And since it was also fully lined, it probably easily weighed in at 12-15 pounds!

We wanted to use the air conditioner whenever we could, so we tried to pile or stack the bottom four feet of the curtain on top of the a/c unit so the vents were visible and functional. But within a minute or so, the vibrations from the a/c caused the curtain to “walk” to the front of the a/c and come crashing to the floor, completely covering the a/c unit and about 8″ of the floor. So, rather than wrestle with this donkey all morning, we remembered why we had come to NY, and set out to take in art and food…(which is another story.)

That evening as we got off the Metro, we thought about a solution to the curtain problem, and headed for the next Duane Reade Drugstore (I swear there’s one every half block throughout Manhattan.) We arrive back at the room with a dozen of the largest, most industrial-looking safety pins we could find, and from that evening for the next week, our routine was to hang around until the room was made up, then wrestle the bottom four feet of the curtain into a “roll” (like a circus tent flap.) and use 8-10 safety pins to keep it above the a/c unit whenever we were in the room, and making sure it was on the floor each morning, as the housekeeper expected it to be.


Category: Contemporary Art

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